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Editorial: Drawing party lines

Of all the things Rowan County might need, more political partisanship is not among them.

N.C. Rep. Harry Warren filed a bill in the General Assembly on Tuesday calling for a referendum on making the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education election a partisan race. Candidates would be identified on the ballot by party and, if the number of candidates merits it, primaries would be held.

Warren said he filed the bill because he’d heard talk about the issue for some time and thought the question should be put to the voters. Josh Wagner, school board chairman, has been an advocate for the move. “I just think it’s just a little unfair to remove partisanship from the table and pretend it doesn’t exist,” Wagner said on Tuesday.

With all due respect, you can’t take something off the table that is not there to begin with. Rowan County has long elected its school board in nonpartisan races. And before the city and county schools merged, Salisbury City Council — elected in nonpartisan elections — appointed city school board members. That’s about as far removed from a partisan election as a person can get.

In the past, some have argued that identifying candidates by party would provide voters with useful information. Ballots can be long and confusing. In that case, party affiliation would help voters sort through the names, providing either all the information they need or at least a factor they would like to consider.

Is it unreasonable to expect voters to choose officials based on issues rather than parties? The voters should be encouraged to find out more about the candidates and issues than which letter is beside their name.

Considering the political tensions dividing the country at the moment, upping the us-vs.-them tone of school board races seems unwise. Rowan has been inching in this direction for at least a couple of election cycles, with lists of party-approved candidates being handed out at the polls. We don’t need to open the door any further to party influence.

If the General Assembly passes Warren’s bill, voters will then decide if school board elections will be continue to be nonpartisan. Such a vote will seem ironic to one of the fastest-growing segments of the electorate — unaffiliated voters, who would have to gather thousands of names to get on the ballot. Partisan races are about electing Republicans and Democrats. Nearly 30 percent of Rowan voters don’t want to be identified as either one.

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